Monday, June 15, 2015

Using Analytics to Determine Web Success

We talk with a lot of clients and prospects about what is working for their business and what is not. When it comes to their online presence, we can objectively evaluate their success by looking at a few key reports on Google Analytics. If you aren’t currently using an analytics program to evaluate your own website, we would strongly suggest you add one as soon as possible. Google Analytics is free and provides a comprehensive overview of who is looking at your site, how they found your site, what they did once they were on your site and more. While Google isn’t the only game in town, it is one of the largest. 

You can sign up for a Google Analytics account by going to www.google.com/analytics and following the on-screen prompts. You will have to install the tracking code on your website which may require the help of your webmaster depending on how your site is set up. Once you have the account set up and the tracking code in place, you’ll start to see all kinds of data on your account dashboard. Google provides plenty of powerful out of the box reports and below you’ll find the ones that we most frequently look at when evaluating a websites performance.
 
  1. Acquisition Overview – Once you are logged in to your Analytics account, click on Acquisition from the left hand side, and then click on “Overview” from the menu that appears below Acquisition.  This report will show you how many people visited your website and where they came from during a specific time frame.  You can continue drilling down from this report. If your number one source of traffic was “organic search” you can click on that heading to see what terms were searched for to find your site. The data found on this report can give you a really good idea where traffic is being generated from.  If your organic search traffic is low, for example, it might be a good idea to ramp up the SEO on your pages.
     
  2. Top Landing Pages – This report (found under Behavior > Site Content > Landing Page) tells you what page people entered your site on. From an optimization stand point, this give you a tremendous opportunity to make sure the top entry pages are also the ones that are optimized with your best offers, headlines and conversion techniques. From this report, be sure to check out the bounce rate. This tells you the percentage of single page visits; meaning that this person only looked at the landing page without going anywhere else. If the bounce rate is quite high (over 50%), it may be time to rework the landing page to make sure it is inviting and tells the user what you want him/her to do on the site.
     
  3. Social Reports – If you use social media to promote your business, you can track its effectiveness in terms of website traffic using analytics. To access the social reports, click on Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals.  This report will show you how much traffic your social work is generating. Clicking on the name of the social network (Facebook for example) will drill down to another report that shows you what pages the visitor actually landed on.
     
  4. Mobile Report – Wondering if your website is getting any traffic from a mobile search? Check the report under Audience > Mobile > Overview to see what percentage of traffic is coming from desktop, mobile or tablets.  If you don’t yet have a mobile optimized website, the data reported here may convince you that it is finally time to take the leap.
     
  5. Goals and Conversions – This is one of the most important reports, but unfortunately most websites we encounter don’t have this set up correctly. Start by setting up a goal. The goal can be a purchase from your online store, a successful form submission, or simply a visit to your contact us page. This is the true measure of how well your website is actually performing for your business. If your conversions are low, then it is time to rethink your landing page, your offer, your website layout or your product offering.

Setting up a goal isn’t terribly difficult, but, it does require some serious thought that not many business owners have put in to their sites. In order to set up a goal, you must have already considered what traffic flow you want your visitor to take. You must set up calls to action and offers on your site. You must have an offer that entices the user to complete your goal.  This a conversation that should be had internally first, then with your web developer or marketing partner to make sure they understand what your goal is and can implement it correctly.

The good news is we can help. We can set up analytics so you can measure your website performance. We’ll be glad to explain what your analytics mean in plain English. And most importantly, we’ll help you make adjustments to improve your website performance. If your website is lacking, please give us a call at 215-923-2679, or email info@creativecharacters.com.

Resizing Images For The Web

We have all visited a website where the images load very slowly, one line at a time, or we’ve seen horribly squeezed and skewed images being forced into a size they were not meant for. Using properly sized images on your website not only makes your website look more professional, it makes it load faster which is paramount for visitors looking at your site on a tablet or mobile phone.  There are a few things we consider when resizing images for the web: file size, file type, desired dimensions and cropping.

File Size

Most photographs taken with a phone or digital camera are well over 1 MB (megabyte) in size. While 1MB isn’t extraordinarily large and likely wouldn’t take too long to download on a high speed connection, having an image that large on your site is typically unnecessary.  An image that is 1 MB (or 1024 kilobytes) can typically be resized using an image editing program to be much smaller, usually less than 100kb when done properly. Resizing your images before you load them on your website will keep the site loading quickly and keep the quality of your images in tact so the browser won’t have to resize or reshape the image to fit the location.

File Type

Images come in many formats. JPEG, GIF, and PNG are a few of the more common ones. So how do you know what to use and when?

  • JPG or JPEG – When using a photograph on a website, we typically reduce the file size and save as a JPEG. JPEG were designed to make detailed images as small as possible by removing information that the human eye won’t notice. JPEG is a good file type for a photograph or an image with a gradient. However, it is not good for logos and line drawings because it tends to make them appear fuzzy.
     
  • GIF and PNG – These two file types use lossless compression, meaning that you can save the image over and over and never lose any data (unlike a JPEG). This makes a GIFs and pngs good for website logos, line drawings and other simple images that need to be small and crisp. These file types can also be transparent which makes them useful on your website. Depending on how your image was created and how you will be using the image, a PNG and GIF file can be larger in size than a JPG.

Desired Dimensions

Creating an image to fit an exact area can be tricky. Typically when we are talking about dimensions for a website image, we are talking about pixels. A really wide website image might be 1900 pixels wide while your standard “about us” profile picture would be closer to 250 pixels wide. A custom home builder client of ours recently sent us a group of photos to use on their homepage photo gallery. The gallery has fixed dimensions of 1000 pixels wide by 350 pixels tall. The images they sent us were taken by a professional photographer and they were huge (roughly 7MB each and approximately 6000 pixels wide by 4000 pixels tall). If we had loaded the images in their native file format, with no reduction, the image quality would have suffered when it rendered on the website. So what we did first was reduce the image file size by running it though an image resizing program. The program we used is called PixResizer by BlueFive Software. It is freeware and can be downloaded here.  When we resized the clients’ images, we chose to reduce the width of all the images to 1000 pixels which would fit the photo gallery perfectly. However, the height of the image was still too tall for our slider. In this case, we also had to crop the image to make it fit the exact dimension.


Cropping

In our example above, we had an image that was the correct width, however, the height was too tall. The image was 1000 pixels wide by 667 pixels tall. We needed an image that was 1000px x 350px. For this group of images, we needed to crop them in order to make them the right size for the photo gallery we were using. Cropping can be tricky as you are actually cutting out part(s) of the image in order to make it a specific size. To do the cropping to specific dimensions you can use an online source like http://picresize.com/ or a software program like Photoshop.

Properly sized images can make your website look and function better. If you aren’t sure whether or not the images on your site are sized correctly for the location, you can check it by going to your website and then right clicking on the image in question. Select the option to “View Image Info.” Under dimensions, you’ll see a pixel dimension (for example: 1,000px x 471px).  If it shows that the dimensions have been scaled to a certain pixel size (see image example below) you may want to resize the image outside of the website and then re-upload it with the proper dimensions. In the example below a very large, 10MB 4,000 px wide picture has been forced into a tiny 152px wide space. Resizing this image and then re-uploading it to the site will make this website load faster which enhances the user experience.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Paper Recycling: An Environmental Success

Paper recycling is more than just putting used paper in an appropriately-labeled recycling bin. Rather, it is an entire process that includes collecting, sorting, shipping, manufacturing and purchasing the newly-made products in a repeatable cycle. Whether paper is made from trees, crops, agricultural residue or other fibers, a recycling system is needed to promote environmental sustainability.

A surprisingly large number of products can be made from recycled materials: fine writing and printing papers; newspapers and magazines; household paper products like paper towels, napkins, facial and toilet tissue; office products like copy paper, file folders, and envelopes; packaging products like cereal packages, egg cartons, gift boxes, and cardboard containers; game boards; animal bedding; and insulation.


Philadelphia first to recycle paper

Paper recycling has been going on since 1690 in the US, when paper was made from rags rather than wood pulp. The first paper mill in the United States, the Rittenhouse Mill near Philadelphia, made paper from fiber derived from cotton and linen rags (often used clothing). To make the mill a success, William Rittenhouse teamed with William Bradford, the owner of a printing establishment, who had a monopoly on all the paper produced by the mill – 1,200 reams per year.

During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin used scrap paper for his printing presses and Massachusetts required that all towns appoint an individual to receive rags for paper mills. In 1896 the first major recycling center was started by the Benedetto family in New York City. They collected rags, newspaper and trash with a push cart.

During World War I, the federal government created the Waste Reclamation Service to encourage the public to save old rags and waste paper. Used paper became a valuable commodity. Paper mills used old books, newspapers and business papers to make new paper fiber. In 1929, Sacramento, began selling the city’s waste paper to an independent paper company and with the revenue generated, increased its trash collectors wages by 25 cents a day.

By 1993, more paper was being recycled than thrown away – a turning point in the paper industry.


The statistics

The US is the world’s leading paper recycler, with over one-third of all the paper recovered in the world. According to data from the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) Fiber Survey, in 2013, 55% of recovered paper stayed in the US and 40% was exported to overseas markets. The use of recycled paper by category is:

  • 40% Overseas exports
  • 32% Corrugated boxes
  • 12% Cardboard packaging
  • 9% Tissue
  • 2% Newsprint
  • 5% Other
     
Each source accounts for about one-third of the total materials. In 2008 there were 430 pulp and paper mills in 41 states (all but Alaska, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming). By 2010, 80% of all US pulp and paper mills relied on recycled paper to contribute 37% of the material used to make new paper products.

Some facts to consider:

  • The largest single category of paper use in the United States is not for reading and writing. It is for packaging – 41% of all paper used.
     
  • Since 1993, more paper is recovered than is sent to landfills. In 2013, 50 million tons of paper was recovered for recycling.
     
  • In 2014, over 96% of Americans had access to curbside or drop-off paper recycling program.
     
  • By weight, more paper is recovered for recycling than all glass, plastic, metal and other materials combined. Paper accounts for 74% of all recovered materials.
     
  • In 2013, 70% of all newsprint was recovered for recycling. About one-third was recycled back into newsprint; the rest was made into other packaging products and animal bedding.
     
  • In 2013, 89% of corrugated cardboard was recovered for recycling. 44% was recycled back into cardboard boxes and containers. Most corrugated boxes have over 25% recycled fibers; some are 100% recycled. 
     
  • It costs 50-80% less to construct a paper mill that uses recycled materials instead of virgin materials.
     
  • Producing paper using recycled materials takes 40% less energy than producing paper from virgin pulp. 
     
  • For every 15,000 tons of old newspaper recycled annually, 30 jobs are created to collect the paper and 40 jobs are created to process the paper.
     
An estimated 80 million Hershey’s kisses are wrapped each day in Hershey, PA. That’s enough foil to cover over 50 acres, or almost 40 football fields! All that foil can be recycled, but not many people realize it.


Recycling saves

Recycling conserves resources. It takes 40% less energy and creates 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution to produce paper using recycled materials instead of virgin wood pulp. Using recycled paper saves 7,000 gallons of water per ton of paper produced. Paper can be recycled and used to make new paper up to seven times.

We use paper responsibly

At Creative Characters, we support both recycling and responsible use of paper. We stock a minimum inventory of paper to eliminate surplus paper accumulation. About 15 years ago, we began utilizing the “just in time” inventory principle. That means, we don’t hold paper in inventory, rather we order “just in time” to produce the job. Finally, what surplus paper we do have is donate annually to local public schools and community centers.

Environmental Responsiblity

This month we explore paper recycling with some statistics and interesting facts thrown in for good measure. You may be interested to know that reducing, reusing, and recycling comes naturally to us. In fact, Creative Characters was recycling before recycling was cool! We have recycled since we opened our doors in 1995.

We have always been and continue to be committed to environmentally responsible business practices. We understand the importance of doing our part to ensure responsible environmental stewardship for our company, our community and our world. We do this willingly and without reservation as our responsibility to preserve our environment.

Creative Characters Receives Superior Performance Award

Brigid and Marya Kaye of Creative Characters Inc, Philadelphia, PA, received the Superior Performance in Print Shop Management award for 2015 from Certified Printers International (CPrint®), at the biannual conference in Nashville, TN. CPrint® presents The Eagle, its highest award, to printing companies who maintain high standards of operational performance as measured by financial strength, profitability and growth.

According to Tom Crouser, CPrint® Chairman, “Creative Characters performance ranks them in the top five percent of all printing companies in North America. CPrint® sets the bar high for its performance awards and Creative Characters has exceeded those goals, with exceptional growth over the last three years.”

Creative Characters Inc is an example of how a family-based business can prosper by focusing on principles and practices geared to exceptional customer service by truly transcending what customers want and going to the heart of what customers need. Brigid and Marya Kaye say that becoming part of CPrint® helped them build a solid foundation for their business.

CPrint® is an organization of independently owned family-based businesses throughout North America that strive for professionalism, performance and leadership. The CPrint® designation is available only to those who demonstrate exceptional quality and service by maintaining standards in operations, training, equipment and software as well as worker benefits and working conditions. This program requires annual onsite recertification as well as participation in continuing educational programs. Creative Characters Inc is the only company in Philadelphia, PA to qualify for this program.

Creative Characters, Inc. is located at 125 South 9th Street, Suite 701, Philadelphia, PA. For more information about the company call 215-923-2679, or visit the company’s website at www.creativecharacters.com.

The Recycling Symbol

The recycling symbol is an internationally-recognized symbol formed of three arrows in a triangle shape. It is based on the Mobius strip – a closed loop that has no beginning and no end. The triangle shape represents the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle waste hierarchy.

The recycling symbol was the result of a contest sponsored by the Container Corporation of America to coincide with the first Earth Day in 1970. The contest winner was Gary Anderson, a 23-year-old student at the University of California. The symbol is in the public domain, is not copyrighted, and can be used with no restrictions. It can been adapted for informative or aesthetic reasons. For example, the plastics industry has adapted the symbol to indicate how a product should be recycled by adding a number in the center.

The Mobius loop symbol shown below, either white with black outline or solid black, indicates that a product can be recycled after use.

When the Mobius loop appears inside a circle, it indicates a product that contains recycled materials or uses recycled material in its manufacturing process. The white-on-black version indicates 100% recycled materials were used. The black-on-white version is for products containing both recycled and non-recycled materials. When a percentage appears within the symbol, it indicates how much of the product has been made from recycled materials.

Summer Vacation


So that we may provide our dedicated employees with a well-deserved summer vacation,
WE WILL BE CLOSED
Friday, June 26 – Friday, July 3
We will reopen promptly at 8:30 am on Monday, July 6.

We appreciate your business!
Please take a few moments to check your documents, forms and stationery to see if you will need anything while we are away. We want to make sure you are taken care of before we leave. Please call Marya or Jason at (215) 923-2679.

Q&A: What are paper grades?

Papers are graded by their use. Luckily, the grade name suggests the current or original use.

  • Bond was originally used to print financial documents; now commonly used in copy machines and desktop printers.
     
  • Writing grade papers are sometimes considered a subset of bond papers and consist of finer paper used for stationery systems (letterheads, envelopes and business cards).
     
  • Coated is used when the way the paper receives the ink is important, such as in full color printing. They are often referred to by the kind of coating – gloss, dull or matte. Coatings can be applied to one or both sides of the sheet.
     
  • Text is often used for announcements and booklets because of the range of interesting textures and colors.
     
  • Book was originally used to print textbooks. Today, it’s used for general printing, as well as books. Book papers offer a range of weights and may be coated or uncoated. 
     
  • Offset is similar to coated and uncoated papers, except that surface sizing is added to resist moisture.
     
  • Cover is a heavier-weight complement to bond and text papers. It is often used for business cards and booklet covers.
     
Other paper grades include index, tag, bristol, digital, newsprint and lightweight papers.